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You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

A friend of mine was shot in the head.
He isn't actually a friend, but I had come to think of him as the paradigm of love via clicking on an absurd amount of pictures of him and his girlfriend, who I once knew, and thinking about how beautiful they looked together. In picture after picture they smiled and held hands and were by far one of the most beautiful couples I have ever seen. A paradigm of love. In my own way, I loved him. So by calling him a friend out loud, I connect myself to what happened and garner, feed off the sympathy of people who don't have the tenuous connection to the tragedy that I do.
I do this because he got shot in the head, and I am the one who needs saving. I know their grief isn't rightfully mine, but I wallow in it selfishly. I have not, like many others, voyeuristically posted condoling things on Facebook, my (and their) primary connection to the incident. I haven't sent her loud, public sympathies so my name, too, will appear on her wall of support. I have not tweeted about it. I have talked about it and thought about it and read about it feverishly. But I know the grief doesn't belong to me, so I have tried to bathe in it as quietly and privately as possible. I don't know him. I have never MET him. His shooting was but a single isolated incident not mine, but it stands for a bigger whole I am facing.
He got shot, and I need saving from a reality that is becoming clearer and more threatening every day.

So I loaded up my bed with books. I don't know what else to do. I feel, for the first time in my life, really and truly alone.
The only thing that comes close to this was when my high school sweetheart and I had broken up at the beginning of my college career, as a freshman, but at that time there were already new romances on the horizon, new people to talk to, new places to see. I was a freshman in college, for fuck's sake. I was alone with 24,000 potential new friends.
But now I am truly alone. The ultimate promise of social networks -- never being alone -- has failed me. I don't know who to talk to, but more than that, I don't know what to say.
"So this guy I've never met got shot in the head, and I'm not OK."

What it means
It means pain is real. That at some point in my life, I am going to feel real pain, real grief, real tragedy. It means my parents and my sisters and Creighton and everyone I love is going to die. It means life is random and quite possibly meaningless. It means, perhaps most terrifying for me, that I am not in control.
I woke up a few weeks ago from a sound within my apartment that meant I was not alone. This is a particularly problematic sound to someone living alone -- a crash in the other room, a squeak in the hallway. In my sleepy, half-blind haze, I saw someone creeping down the hall. I thought to myself, "Holy shit, I'm going to die." I called out in my fiercest whisper, "Get out. I have a gun." I did not have a gun, but I hoped the threat would convince the person peering into my bedroom to reconsider. I grabbed a pocketknife I keep by my bed and flipped it open, hoping the minuscule "click" it made was close enough to the sound a gun chambering to be convincing. The person did not move. A few painful, heart-racing, eternal moments later, and I tried again. "Hello?" Nothing. I couldn't decide at that point if a face was peering into my bedroom or a shadow.
It was a shadow.
I have not been the same since.

I can't stop replaying what may have happened in Earl's house when he got shot in the head. After reading newspaper articles online, I have a pretty good sketch in my head. I have considered where the bullet entered his head. I have thought about the screams of the other people in the house as the gun went off. I have thought about the expression on the face of the would-be robber, the entire face widening for just a fraction of a second in realization he just shot someone -- another human being whom he might have known -- in the head, before sprinting out the door. I have thought about Annalee receiving multiple phone calls and her hurried panic to get to the hospital. I have tried to put myself there.

I turned to Didion. I did this because I read on TheMillions.com she wrote "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" because she was disillusioned with a place to the point of pain, perhaps depression. I was disillusioned with a place, an industry, a life.
My library didn't have "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." I picked up "The Year of Magical Thinking." I knew she had lost a husband and daughter in rapid succession. I read the inside jacket and discovered her dealing with that grief was the topic. Because I had put myself in a position to adopt a grief not my own, I took it home. Someone I knew was possibly losing a loved one. One day, I would lose a loved one. I needed this book.

Years ago, I sort of knew a man who was involved in an awful motorcycle wreck. The details, by the time I heard them, had been exaggerated, but involved something about how his knees got caught underneath a truck bed while he was still on the motorcycle. Driving. You knew it was bad because DiscoveryHealth worked him into one of those "I shouldn't be alive" episodes with two other people. One of them was a black girl who got stabbed. I remember watching it with the motorcycle-wreck survivor in the room. I remember the doctor on screen talking about brain surgery.
After the wreck, Josh was in and out of the hospital for a few years because every time he got better, he would stand on his knees wrong and need another surgery. I remember the only time I visited him -- with my sister, during Christmas break when I was possibly a freshman in college. I remember thinking I didn't know if he would walk again, if he would get out of the hospital for good and make a recovery at all. I remember thinking it was sad he was spending Christmas in the hospital, that he might always spend Christmas in the hospital.
He is now married with a child. He appears to walk fine. I would bet he lifts his child over his head effortlessly, that he plays football with the child and doesn't even think about his knees. I wonder if he ever dreams about the wreck.

I have thought a lot about aging, about how our cells break down with years. About how we are so limited. About how one day I'll be fatter and saggier. It's already beginning.

Time heals. Time breaks us down.

Earl is in critical condition in a hospital. He is alert and apparently responsive and still alive. He is breathing on his own. I hope beyond doubt and science and reason and probability that he lives. At least for now.

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